Dante “Tater” Barksdale, the leader of Safe Streets Baltimore, a violence prevention program died from a gunshot wound to the head on Jan. 17 in Southeast Baltimore. His death has devastated many in the community he served, as well as his fellow warriors in the battle against murder and mayhem. (AP Photo/PATRICK-SEMANSKY )

By Sean Yoes
AFRO Senior Reporter
syoes@afro.com

“The most gangster sh** in the world is forgiveness,” said Dante Barksdale, the indefatigable leader of Baltimore Safe Streets, the violence prevention program, on Dec. 1, 2020, via Facebook. A little more than a month later Barksdale was consumed by the violence he literally dedicated his life to quelling. And hundreds across the city and others across the nation have been devastated by his death.

“My heart is broken with the loss of my friend Dante Barksdale, a beloved leader in our community who committed his life to saving lives,” said Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott in a statement. “He was the heart and soul of Safe Streets, where he worked for nine years. His death is a major loss to Safe Streets, the communities they serve, and the entire City of Baltimore. I send my deepest condolences and prayers to Dante’s family in this tragic time,” Scott added.

Barksdale, 46, who was known lovingly by most as “Tater,” was discovered with a gunshot wound to his head Sunday morning (Jan. 17) near the Douglass Homes housing projects in Southeast Baltimore according to the Baltimore Police Department (BPD). He was transported to Johns Hopkins Hospital where he was pronounced dead. 

As the leader of Safe Streets, which is facilitated by those who most intimately understand Baltimore’s violent street life, Barksdale was an expert at building relationships with the city’s disenfranchised young people most at risk of violence and mediating conflicts between them. According to the family, Barksdale worked in violence prevention for a total of 13 years, including his nine years with Safe Streets. His dynamic local work earned him a national reputation. 

“Dante Barksdale dedicated his life to making Baltimore safer,” wrote Gabrielle Giffords via Twitter. Giffords, a former Arizona representative, became a gun control advocate after she was the victim of an assassination attempt during a political gathering in January 2012. “May his legacy drive us to go further in our fight to save lives, just as Dante did every day with Safe Streets Baltimore. My heart is with his family, his friends, and the community he served.”

Shantay Jackson, director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, worked closely with Barksdale for years, prior to her current assignment with the city. “Dante was not only a respected Safe Streets team member, but a beloved friend to so many in Baltimore,” Jackson said. “He turned his life around and worked tirelessly for nearly a decade to prevent gun violence in our communities by working with those who were at the highest risk of being a shooter or the victim of shooting,” she added. “Our office mourns this senseless loss of life with the rest of Baltimore City and is committed to honoring his life and his light by continuing to work to end gun violence in our city once and for all.”

Barksdale, the nephew of Nathan “Bodie” Barksdale, a Baltimore drug dealer whose life inspired the creation of the character Avon Barksdale on HBO’s “The Wire,” chronicled his experiences on the street in his 2019 memoir, Growing Up Barksdale: A True Baltimore Story. “I was tired of getting locked up, of getting robbed by police, of having to keep an eye out at all times,” he wrote. “I wanted a regular job. And it seemed the universe had one in mind for me.”

The city will never know exactly how many young people Barksdale actually saved, how many he dissuaded from violence.

“The men and women of the Baltimore Police Department offer our heartfelt condolences to the family of Dante Barksdale,” said Commissioner Michael Harrison in a statement. “His work in outreach, mediating conflicts and reducing gun violence in our city was invaluable and he embodied a message of redemption and peace to the many young people of our city.”

Barksdale’s tragic death has shaken many of his colleagues and friends that battled alongside him in the arena of violence prevention. Yet, they are buoyed and encouraged by his legacy and his spirit.

“Murder knew he wasn’t supposed to be touched…Murder knew he was a general in Baltimore’s peace army…Murder knew that his death by senseless violence would hit wayyyy different,” wrote Darnyle Wharton, one of the organizers of the Baltimore Ceasefire movement, in a Facebook tribute to his friend and colleague.

“What murder didn’t know is that his spirit is SOOOOO MUCH MORE POWERFUL than his earthly remains and his spirit is now fighting for us.”

Barksdale’s personal mantra is the remedy to the violence that ravages our city, the violence that ultimately took his life. And the effort to eradicate that violence will always be  hindered by his loss.

“We all we got and all we got is us,” Barksdale believed. “We are not going anywhere, and we have to make this better for us while we are here. I’m not the police and I am not here to lock you up like the police, but I am here to unlock your mind. Violence prevention, mediation, conflict resolution, problem solving, and communication is what it takes to save the community.”

Barksdale was preceded in death by his father, Alvin Barksdale. He leaves to mourn his mother, Joan “Carlena” Houston; Lakisha Jackson, the mother of his two daughters India and Iyanla; his partner Priscilla “Cilla” Taberling; two brothers Alvin “Woody” Barksdale Jr., and Richard “Shang” Barksdale; two sisters Quanza Houston and Pili Houston and many other relatives, friends and colleagues.

 

Sean Yoes

AFRO Baltimore Editor